Guild Wars 2: Retreading the past

My current reluctance to log in and play Guild Wars 2 comes from having content that I don’t especially want to do in front of me instead of the content that I do. Honestly, I’d rather be either doing zone clears or progressing into some of the story that I haven’t seen yet, but I feel compelled to wrap up Season 2 before anything else. Want to get everything wrapped up all nice and tidy-like before the next expansion comes out.

And here’s the thing: Season 2 wasn’t bad. Not Season 1 disjointed-and-grindy bad. The episodes are interesting, the storytelling and characters got bumped up a notch, and there are some genuinely clever locales. But it’s all the sort of thing I’d rather have only done once and never again, rather than being excited about repeating it.

One of my favorite cutscenes. Just really great blocking as a short silent film. My only quibble is that the ghost sister looks really weird, like she has doll makeup on or something.

Oh! Had some gems burning a hole in my pocket, spent them on aviator sunglasses. No buttflaps and floppy hats for me. I look like space police now.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand — the combination of very long story instances, odd mechanics, and having pushed through all of this in the past is less an attractor and more of a detractor for my interest. Maybe if the instances were broken up more? Sitting through a 45 minute instance like Hidden Arcana and having to master some brand-new techniques is very attention-intensive and exhausting in the end. Not terribly, but when I knew exactly how long it would take, my mind kept thinking about what was ahead of me and was left to do instead of just enjoying the moment.

I need to grasp and cling to the moment in these games. I’m bad at that, constantly running down a checklist of everything that needs to be accomplished to get where I want to go — usually all of the way through the main storyline to get to the current spot where everyone else is. Having a whole bunch ahead of me can feel oppressive if I let it. But when I just dial it back, get into a little groove, and focus on the present, it gets more enjoyable. And I know that if I keep taking steps forward, I’ll get to where I want to be in the end.

Guild Wars 2’s loot problem

As you might be able to tell from these screenshots, I recently wrapped up the personal storyline on my Guild Wars 2 Engineer, paving the way for progress in the living world and expansion. If we assume a fall expansion, it’s going to take some dedicated work to getting through all of these episodes. Maybe I’m slow, but some of them feel pretty long.

I kind of want to push hard to get through Season 2, because once I do that, I’ll finally get to some new stuff… and I wouldn’t mind having S2 in my rearview mirror. It’s a step up from the personal story, but I’ve been there and done that, and plant dragon and pale tree speeches and so on.

Right now I have two main methods of growing my character: getting more hero points for my Scrapper spec and unlocking/working on masteries. I’m not getting either of these just doing S2, but it’s something for the future. At least my character hasn’t arrived at a plateau on which there is no advancement.

So let’s talk about the other reason that I am not the biggest fan of S2, which is loot. Actually, it’s a problem systematic to Guild Wars 2 as a whole from what I’ve seen and experienced (which I admit has yet to cross over into the expansion and season 3). This is an MMO that throws loot at you left and right… and so very little of it is actually useful or interesting. I’ll finish up an episode and get a little bit excited at the loot explosion that happens, but then I realize it’s some currencies, some random crafting mats, and some bags and boxes of gear that is of no use to me other than breaking down into crafting mats to sell.

Don’t get me wrong, I like selling on the trading post and building up a nest egg, but an MMO player needs more than just money. Guild Wars 2 build a foundation on the idea that there wouldn’t be much of a gear treadmill, so once you have exotic gear you’re generally fine at all level 80 stuff unless you want to bend over backwards to get ascended gear for slightly better stats or contort yourself into knots for months to get legendary gear for slightly better stats and ostentatious armor.

What else is there? There’s no housing, so no housing items are going to be in loot tables. Pets and truly desirable items are going to be locked away in the gem store. Maybe if you’re a crafter, all of this lootapalooza is exciting, but what is there for everyone else? About the best thing I can hope for is that a piece of gear drops that has a skin I haven’t collected yet, but I’m pretty much beyond that with the common stuff.

Story, experience, sights, character progression… all of these are fine and useful motivators to pushing forward in a game, but I won’t lie and say that loot is unimportant. I’ve had similar complaints about the general unexciting loot tables of LOTRO — my longstanding main MMO, lest anyone think I’m just picking on GW2 here — because when there’s never any surprises, never any desirable or useful gear, never anything that’s going to make my night. It’s busy work, filling up my inventory so that later on I’ll have to salvage and sell it.

Loot should be useful.

Loot should be exciting.

And my point is that this is a darn shame. It’s not an immediate deal-breaker to playing the game, but it does make for a lesser experience in comparison with other MMOs on my rotation (again, in this one regard). Maybe I’m not looking in the right places. Maybe I need to be doing more guild missions, or fractals, or (shudder) raiding, or whatever. Maybe I should turn to crafting. I’m open to advise. But I agree with one forum poster that Guild Wars 2’s loot is “excessive and unenjoyable,” which makes it an area that could use some attention as we do barrel down into a new expansion.

What do you think?

Guild Wars 2: The sublime smugness of Trahearne

Is there a more smug face in all of existence than this one right here? You want to punch it so bad, even when he’s not saying anything.

When it comes to the vanilla personal story in Guild Wars 2, I find it best to grit one’s teeth, click “skip to end” any time it’s offered, and just get through it as quickly as possible. It wasn’t the most engrossing content when the game originally launched and hasn’t aged well, especially with those portrait dialogue screens. But for the sake of completion, I want to get it done.

I’m somewhere in the level 70 stretch, so I’m getting there, but it’s been a harder go than anticipated. The big problem is that there’s some issue with the game where it likes to randomly disconnect me while I’m in these instances, usually right at the end. It doesn’t do this in the open world, I’m not having internet connection issues, it’s something specific about the instances.

And you know how Guild Wars instances go — they’re not quick. There’s a lot of scripting and you could be in one for 20, 30 minutes at a time. Having one abruptly dump me out mere minutes from the end, only to find that I have to start all over again, is immensely frustrating. This has happened numerous times (again, ALWAYS in instances), and usually I’ll have to step away from the game for the night afterward because I don’t have it in me to run it a second time.

So I’ve gotten very paranoid about the instances crapping out on me, which means that I’ve been speeding through them and clicking past all dialogue as fast as possible in the hopes of hitting that finish line before the game notices that I’m there and tries to ruin my day.

Plus, it really didn’t help that in one instance, Trahearne simply stopped contributing altogether. He didn’t fight — I took this picture above to show how I’m fending off mighty undead while he’s thinking of his grocery shopping list for the week (probably all produce). Then, at some point, he wandered/glitched away entirely and I couldn’t finish the instance because he was supposed to trigger a script.

Nevertheless, I’m making progress and should be done with this stretch. I’m finding that making money is a relaxing side activity in Guild Wars 2, so it’s kind of enjoyable to be harvesting everything, breaking down everything, and then wrapping up a session by heading back to the trading post to see what kind of profit I can turn. I don’t have anything specific in mind to use this money on, but I find that in MMOs, it’s always better to have a fat wallet than a skinny one for when you need it.

I’ll also give Guild Wars 2 this: It’s absolutely the best MMO for jumping into really, really quickly and farting around for a few minutes. I can always just wander maps, explore a bit, kill a little, and log out, and even a spare five minutes seems better put to use in this game than others.

Guild Wars 2: Unearthing the Necromancer

Last night I made the decision to transfer my flag from the Engineer to the Necromancer in Guild Wars 2. It wasn’t a decision that I made lightly, since I’ve already poured a few weeks into this fledgling Engie, but I think it’s the right one for me. I wasn’t quite getting back into the groove that I once had with the Engineer, and when I gave the Necro a spin again, I was reminded of how much I really liked this class — and how much work I’ve already put into it. In fact, it’s probably my second most advanced character in terms of world exploration and story progression, so with the news of the upcoming expansion, it seemed like a good idea to work on fleshing that character out instead of continuing to build up a new one from scratch.

There were a few other factors in favor of this transfer. My Necro has my long-standing Guild Wars franchise name — Yeti Yesterday — that dates back to the original game (who was a Reaper there) and has a much better look, what with the light armor and all. I don’t know what it is with GW2 and medium armor, but is there a reason why it’s Trenchcoat City and nothing but? Light armor seems to have so much more variety in terms of visuals and much better designs. Yes, these are very froofy reasons, but still, such things matter.

Probably of more import is that I enjoy the variety of the Necro’s playstyle. First of all, pets. Total minion master here, even if it isn’t the most optimal or efficient. It’s just fun to run around like I do in WoW with a small horde of pets out ready to gang up on some unsuspecting centaur. And both dual daggers and the staff offer interesting combat, with the added option of going into death shroud for some nasty AoE attacks.

In terms of story progression, I left my Necro in a weird place. I never finished her personal story (I am around level 40 there), but have all but finished Season 2. So I’m going back to do the personal story, the last quest for Season 2, and then move on to the expansion. World exploration sits about 70% or so, which feels great.

I’m not really reading or tracking all of the expansion leaks that closely. I really like my current build and gear, so any new elite specializations are really going to have to wow me to earn a change.

I’m pretty excited about the switch and playing it going forward. Hopefully it’ll stick and I won’t have the buyer’s regret (so to speak). My only qualms with this character is that I have no idea what I was thinking with her looks, because she has this baby doll face that makes me go “ugh.” Might have to change that soon.

What I’m playing: World of Warcraft, LOTRO, Guild Wars 2

World of Warcraft

Time for a little update on my current evening rotation, which pretty much keeps cycling through three MMOs. Let’s start with WoW, because I absolutely loved the fact that there were swimming skeletal fish in Tirisfal Glades and wanted to use this pic for a header.

Anyway, I’m kind of stalled once again with my Death Knight. There are odds and ends to do, but now that I’ve got flying and four (!) legendary items, I feel a lot less motivated to clear out my quest log and run mythics. So instead I’ve found myself spending a little time here and there with my baby Undead Warlock, who hasn’t even hit double digits yet.

Let me tell you, those early levels are really rough. Not hard, combat-wise, but very slow. I didn’t even get my pet until level 5 or 6, and burning stuff down before you get your second DoT is just a pain. Suck it up, I tell myself. Deal with it and enjoy the Halloweeny scenery. I always did love this zone.

Since this is a Horde character, I have no characters to shuttle her money or bags, so it’s pretty much a start-from-scratch scenario. That’s fine for an alt, and there’s no rush to get to the cap.

Lord of the Rings Online

10th anniversary activities continue to consume me (and that’s fine, since I am not feeling particularly hurried to get back to the Wastes). I run the delivery quests every three days for the easy tokens and otherwise plink away at the scavenger hunts. I’ve done all of the Year One quests and two of the Year Two — but there’s a sticking point with that last one.

You see, there’s a quest to re-do a bunch of Volume 1 instances via reflecting pool, which wouldn’t be a problem except I haven’t done Volume 1 on this character at all. So I either give up on a meta-goal of doing ALL of the scavenger quests or I suck it up and do 26 books of an extremely long epic questline in a row. I’m not fully committed to the latter, but I am working on it when I have nothing else to do. I figure I have until mid-July, so it might happen. Might.

I do want to procure a few of the anniversary rewards, like the goat mount and some of the cosmetics. I am very, very happy with the scavenger hunt rewards so far and eager to see what future weeks hold. It’s been such a weird trip around the world, sometimes frustrating (I am not a fan of LOTRO’s stable master system and all of the hard-to-remember town names and where they connect). I’ve probably spent more mithril coins than I should have on quick ports, although I’ve also strategically set bind points at three spots around Middle-earth to get to regions when I need to.

Guild Wars 2

Still really enjoying the relaxed return to this game as I level up a new Engineer (now level 27 with no boosts). I have kind of a formula I’m following, which is to work on zone completion until I unlock the next personal story chapter, then stop to do that, then resume zone. I’m sticking with the human zones for the most part right now, although I did digress into Asura territory when I ran out of on-level human areas to do.

I was happy to see that Heart of Thorns dropped in price for good yesterday, so for $30 I felt that it was time to finally get it. If nothing else, it gets me the Scrapper elite specialization and gliding in the future, so I’m down for that. There’s such a mountain of content to climb to “catch up” with the current releases, and I have serious doubts that at this pace I’ll be ready for the expansion… whenever it gets here. I do have a level 80 boost now, but I’m really reluctant to use it. Don’t see the need, really; I’m enjoying the journey and am not going to skip ahead to the expansion story.

7 MMO cosmetic wardrobe systems, ranked

Here’s a little thought exercise I’ve been going through lately after having a discussion about cosmetic systems on the MOP podcast. We had been asked which was the best MMO wardrobe system, which I initially thought was an easy answer… and then, long after the podcast was done, started to revise my response. Ultimately, I asked myself how I would rank the systems present in the MMOs I’ve played the most in the last, oh, five years or so, and this is what I came up with going from best to worst.

WildStar

There’s a lot of factors that go into a truly great cosmetic wardrobe system, and believe it or not, WildStar checks off most of those boxes. It’s got great armor design, plenty of cosmetic pieces, a system that remembers loot you’ve collected, multiple outfit slots, two dye channels, fun dyes, and an accessible system (which is a change from launch, which required you to talk to a specific NPC). I adored being able to create and wear different outfits based on my mood, and I was often torn on which one I liked the best because they were all pretty awesome. WildStar usually get a lot of props for its housing, but I think its wardrobe deserves praise too.

Guild Wars 2

Initially I had put Guild Wars 2 at the top, but upon further reflection, I had to acknowledge that there are two big flaws with its wardrobe system: It makes you pay to change individual slots (via transmutation charges) and it doesn’t allow for multiple saved outfits. Apart from that, it’s pretty brilliant, with several dye channels, loads of colors, expressive pieces, and all the buttflaps you can stomach. Finding and obtaining skins is an enjoyable metagame for GW2, that’s for sure.

RIFT

On paper, RIFT has almost the full package. It remembers skins, has multiple outfit slots, is ridiculously easy to use, involves weird cosmetics, and so on. Other than the dye cash shop and the smaller color range, I’d say it was almost perfect… except that I just don’t like about 90% of RIFT’s armor designs. They’re not bad, per se, just not what I want to be trouncing around in, and there are strangely few store outfits that even slightly tempt me to purchase. Probably shouldn’t complain; better armor art and I might have gone broke.

The Secret World

TSW’s strength in cosmetics is that it’s a rare MMO that uses modern outfits rather than fantasy/sci-fi ones (for the most part) and is thus a fashion that is more identifiable to players. People in TSW just adore dressing up their characters, sometimes the more outrageous, the better. Wonderful array of choices are offset only by a lack of dyeable outfits (although some pieces come in multiple colors) and no multiple outfit saves. It’s nice that there is a convoluted fashion to even equip cosmetic weapons, but it really should’ve been more like the regular outfits in accessibility.

Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO sits squat in the middle of this list with plenty of strengths but plenty of weaknesses as well. On the plus side, it’s another MMO with a community that does a lot of dressing up, and the game has done a lot to make this as robust as possible. Dyes, multiple outfits, varied designs, cosmetic weapons, etc. But on the minus side, the wardrobe itself is a little creaky and unfriendly, especially when compared to how many MMOs these days are saving EVERY new design whereas LOTRO has a hard limit. And you have to manage it by hand. Plus, the dyes aren’t that great, with only one color channel for (most) pieces and the dyeable area often being small.

World of Warcraft

For a major MMORPG, World of Warcraft suffers from a kind of lackluster system. Admittedly, the fact that it has one and it’s gradually improved is far better than launch, but seriously, transmog is pretty sad when you compare it to the field. No dyes, no multiple outfits (I’m not really that keen on just changing gear’s appearance rather than having a separate and toggleable cosmetic outfit), no way to do it on the fly, new gear overriding older transmog looks and requiring more money for new transmogs, and no quick check boxes to turn off helms and capes is all in dire need of addressing. To its credit, WoW has fabulous and fun armor design, which goes a long way to smoothing over the issues presented here.

Star Trek Online

Let’s throw in a couple of Cryptic efforts to be well-rounded. STO never really impressed me with its outfits. Sure, you could mix-and-match uniform elements, there were some (but not many) colors, and you had a small handful of outfit slots. But generally you aren’t collecting new looks while you play (most uniforms are simply bought through the store), and the interface is a little unwieldy. Sometimes it’s just more interesting to let your gear do the visuals for you, since they can be more detailed and futuristic.

Neverwinter

At the bottom of the barrel, Neverwinter does the absolute bare minimum to qualify as an MMO with a cosmetic system while making it as unfun as possible. Two cosmetic-only slots for specific items, no thank you. It’s a system that you learn about in the tutorial and then promptly forget going forward.

Now I know that there are plenty of other MMOs out there with great wardrobe systems, like EverQuest II, but I wanted to rank ones from games that I was most familiar.

Guild Wars 2: Captain Syp the Game Master

I consider 36 gold well-spent if it gives me the Captain N/NES light zapper as a pistol skin for life. Complete with retro-sounding zaps. It’s probably one of the best things I’ve ever purchased in a game, to tell the truth.

Long story short, I found my way back to Guild Wars 2 after a nearly two -year break, which apparently was long enough of a stretch for any burnout to blow away and leave the game fertile for rediscovery. Short story long, I was searching for some sort of casual online experience over the past week, and after going back and forth on some other titles, I found that Guild Wars 2 had exactly what I needed right now. It didn’t require an up-front cost, it was a perfect “jump in and do whatever” type of game, and it was different enough from my other MMOs to not be treading over the same territory.

Oh NPC, you’re about to have your heart broken by ArenaNet, because we ain’t never going back to Cantha. Too many players have heckled the studio at this point for the studio to acquiesce.

Without feeling pressured to do the latest content or — for whatever reason — get geared up for raids, I figured that I would just start all over from scratch. When I’m gone from a game this long, that’s what I typically (although not always) end up doing. I also figured that it’d be a good way to discover all of the changes that have happened without feeling overwhelmed.

Initially I rolled up a Thief (at the top of the post) because double pew-pewing with guns sounded fun. But I couldn’t fight my inner geek, which shouted loud and incessantly at me to go back to an Engineer. I thought for a few moments about picking up my old character, but I think I was done with the Asura. So I went with a fresh, level-one human instead.

I don’t really care what’s FOTM or optimal, all I want to do with this character is burn things with purifying fire from my flamethrower, which is still one of my favorite MMO weapons of all-time. Back-up is my dual pistol setup, both of which will lean on a condition damage build.

As my son asked when I dashed into a burning orphanage and started laying waste with my flamethrower, “Dad, why are you adding MORE fire to the place?” Because video game logic, son. You’ll understand one day.

So far it’s been a wonderfully relaxing experience. Without using a level boost, I don’t have to worry about facing all of the personal story all at once. Instead, I’m doing a little bit of that but mostly focused on world exploration and making money by gathering all I can. I have no idea how inflated the economy is right now, but I don’t want to get to 80 and have to worry about not affording my exotic gear.

As I said, it’s been a great time of small little rediscoveries. Still not a perfect game, especially in its larger storytelling department, but the environmental exploration and stories come off very well. The UI, combat, animations, and rewards feel right, and slowly going around a zone ticking off all of the boxes is satisfying in a “popping bubble wrap” fashion.